Hanzai Japan by Haikasoru
This book tests the imaginative borders surrounding literature of and about the country.
About the press:
With a small, elite list of award-winners, classics and new work by the hottest young writers, Haikasoru is the first imprint dedicated to bringing Japanese science fiction to America and beyond. Featuring the action of anime and the thoughtfulness of the best speculative fiction, Haikasoru aims to truly be the “high castle” of science fiction and fantasy.
When I was at the height of my teenage escape-into-fictional-worlds phase, it was almost impossible to access real-time Japanese media. Once I reached college I learned about classic authors like Mishima and Kawabata, of course, but I wanted to know what was happening in Japanese fiction of the moment. What are kids my age reading? I wondered. Luckily, my days of wistful wondering are long gone. Contemporary social media, small presses and online publications have given us unprecedented access to cutting-edge Japanese entertainment. In some cases, this process even has us expanding the definition of Japanese fiction. Hanzai Japan is one of those books. An anthology of contemporary crime fiction from and about Japan, this collection of short stories stretches the boundaries of genre, language and culture.
According to editors Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington, “Hanzai Japan brings together West and East, SF/F and crime writers, to tell stories of crime with supernatural or science fictional elements.” These are not your typical crimes and criminals. Instead, the stories dart in and out of the shadowy corners of multiple genres, taking well-worn stories and canonical characters to risky and unexpected places. In one story, a serial killer turns his deadly avocation into a family affair, until he’s forced to do hard time … in Hell. In another,
futuristic Tokyo struggles to come to terms with a minority group of immigrant vampires, menial labourers who are suspiciously monitored by the human population. In yet another story, nothing— not even a techno-apocalypse—can stop a high school girl from performing with her cover band in the school festival. The anthology’s diversity goes beyond plot, however. The editors have collected Japanese writers in translation and placed them alongside Western writers who spin tales about Japan and the Japanese. The result is a wonderfully weird mix that ranges wildly, from high-brow literary writer Brian Evenson to genre writer Hiroshi Sakurazaka, whose novel All You Need Is Kill inspired Tom Cruise’s surprisingly enjoyable film adaptation, Edge of Tomorrow. The end result is a collection that redefines what we think of when we put “Japan” together with “crime writing.”
The press’s multicultural, multi-genre approach is reflected in the book’s title. Masumi Washington admits that, at first, it sounded odd to her Japanese ears, and the publisher’s sales team was unhappy with “hanzai” because it’s meaningless to most English readers. But the book teaches us that hanzai means “crime,” and it also puts the native word in a new context for Japanese readers. Washington even wonders if “hanzai,” like the term “emoji,” will one day be adopted into English. That’s the kind of future taking shape in Hanzai Japan.
With such a wide-ranging selection, the anthology appears to have something for every kind of crime junkie, so naturally the top stories will vary depending on the reader. Two of my favourites were Libby Cudmore’s “Rough Night in Little Toke” and Yumeaki Hirayama’s “Monologue of a Universal Transverse Mercator Projection.” In Cudmore’s story, a night of blackout-level drinking sets off a disturbing series of supernatural events for the bumbling narrator, who wakes up from a typical raucous night out with his misogynistic friend to find himself inked with a creepy new tattoo and the haunting ability to read minds. Hirayama’s story is told from the perspective of a sentient road map, the faithful servant to an ordinary taxi driver at the end of an uneventful career. One evening, as he’s nearing retirement, the driver picks up an especially difficult passenger. Feeling abused, the driver snaps, an impulsive act of violence that turns him to a twilight life of crime. As a witness and faithful servant, the map must act to protect his master from the consequences of his own actions. While not all of the 17 stories shine with the same intensity, the anthology as a whole is a collection of fascinating worlds spun from the minds of witty and talented writers.
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